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Colloquium: Collin O’Neil
March 14, 2018 @ 4:15 pm - 6:15 pm
Each colloquium will be held on Wednesday from 4:15 P.M. to 6:15 P.M. in rooms 9-204/9-205, except as otherwise noted.
Collin O’Neil (CUNY Lehman College)
“Consent and Third-Party Coercion in Medicine and Research”
Mrs. M, a survivor of experiments that took place at Auschwitz, reports that she agreed to be experimented on by Dr. Mengele only because “As soon as I stood up I was whipped with a leather whip which broke my flesh, then I was told the whipping was a sample of what I would receive if I did not follow instructions and orders.” Obviously Mrs. M’s subsequent consent to Mengele’s experimentation was involuntary. In this case the person who received Mrs. M’s consent, Dr. Mengele, was also the person applying the pressure. But what should we think about cases where someone consents to an intervention under pressure from a third-party, and the recipient of consent merely does what the consenter asks them to do? This issue arises in a variety of contexts: consent to kidney donations, physician-assisted suicide, and life-sustaining treatment under family pressure; flu shots under pressure from one’s employer; rehab under court order; research participation under pressure from one’s partner, etc. There are two different general approaches to voluntariness. The autonomy approach to voluntariness is indifferent to whether pressure comes from a third-party or the recipient of consent. On the competing moralized approach, consent is involuntary only when it is in response to illegitimate pressure from therecipient. Adopting one general approach or the other appears to commit us to regarding consent in response to third-party pressure as always involuntary or never involuntary. Yet reflection on cases suggests that third-party pressure renders consent involuntary only sometimes. This has prompted one ethicist (Millum 2014) to reject both general approaches and to develop a special approach to third-party pressure. I believe that rejecting the moralized (though not the autonomy) approach is unwarranted. Its resources for handling third-party pressure have been underestimated by its critics and its proponents alike.